China’s National Development and Reform Commission and National Energy Administration on April 25 suspended or slowed plans for more than 100 GW of coal-fired capacity across the country in a bid to rein in overcapacity in the generation sector and bolster efforts to improve air quality. The order affects around 200 plants currently in development but not yet under construction.

Electricity demand in China has fallen sharply with the country’s economic slowdown, and many plants built in the explosion of new generation over the past decade are operating at substantially reduced capacity. The order instructs officials in 15 provinces and regions to suspend development of projects that have not started construction, while 13 other regions were told to delay new projects at least until 2017.

The order also seeks to speed retirement of older coal-fired plants, which are a major source of the country’s endemic air pollution. China’s coal consumption fell last year for the first time since the 2009 economic crisis.

In addition, areas that still face growth in electricity demand were instructed to place a priority on wind and solar generation over coal, as well as on new transmission lines to import power from areas with overcapacity.

Outside the order this week, China has been struggling to contain the growth in its carbon emissions through a variety of methods. The country is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide and has committed to peaking growth by 2030.

Still, Chinese coal demand is expected to continue climbing, if not at the breakneck pace seen during the 2000s. The China National Coal Association expects demand to grow about 2% annually through 2020, far less than the average 9% growth between 2000 and 2010.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).